Friday, June 26, 2009

Time Is On Your Side

If you could do anything, what would it be?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: heal the sick, end war, feed the hungry, clean up pollution, beat the crap out of the belligerent--- altruism and compassion are off limits. This is a purely hypothetical, selfish, indulgent hypothesis. No invisibility, x-ray vision, flying carpets or wishes, either. I’m trying to keep to a pragmatic unreality.

I find the evening stretching pleasantly in front of me. Not too far, it’s after 9:00, but still. My mind wanders to my personal cosmic To-Do list. I could clean out my desk (my car has recently been rendered pristine) or hit that pile of books I’ve been meaning to read. There’s that final Dark Shadows videotape (yes, VHS, really) to watch. There’s Pogo. Worst case, I suppose I could always work.

What would you do?

The Big Dog is visiting. This may be his last night though I hope to squeeze an extra day out of Fate. I love this beast, and he just came in, with his enormous head and beautiful black-coffee eyes. With little Jonah on sentry duty in the front window, it’s imperative that I go rub the Big Dog's belly for a while-- at least until Jonah comes in for his share of attention. Decision made by default. I hope all your choices are as easy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vegas Vignettes: Witchy Woman

On the last night, a lovely older woman sat next to me. She looked ordinary enough, but she had a kind of presence. There was something commanding yet kind about her. She held a handful of paper napkins and other sundries which I’m sure had some arcane use.

Well, she sat at the slot machine on my right and after two or three spins she made a disapproving noise. I looked over inquiringly, and with a slight accent, she said that the machine “wasn’t speaking” to her. Of course it wasn’t, I thought. She hadn’t been there for more than a minute, but I just smiled sympathetically. Why not? I was losing too.

She gathered her things and moved over to the machine on my left. I noticed she was only betting about 20 cents a spin, but now she’s pleased. She told me that this machine was speaking to her. I sure couldn’t hear it, but she was happy. She was still losing her 20 cents every time, but getting happier and happier.

I was losing too, playing $1.50 a go, but I was comfortable (we’d eaten an enormous dinner) and just didn’t feel like moving. Moreover, she was pleasant to be around. There was something about her that I liked. We were chatting when she started to win. Small at first, then pretty soon she’d parlayed $5 into about $250. I congratulated her but she only nodded, saying with a smile “I told you, it was speaking to me. I’d better take this out now.”

She took it out, put the ticket in her purse then went back to playing with a fresh $5. Soon her husband arrived, he saw that she had $8.36 and told her to take her winnings out before she lost it. She did, and he took the $8.36 ticket to the cashier. She started to follow, then came back to wink at me. “Good thing I took it out when I did!” Then she patted my machine. “I hope it speaks to you soon.”

That’s when my luck turned, and I won all that money.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Disney McVegas

You probably don’t remember the first time you went to Disneyland. By the time you were entrenched in childhood, that trademarked castle was branded on your brain. Enter the park and be surrounded by color, light and sound unlike anything at home or in school. McDonald’s was much the same, only with less travel time. Inside those Golden Arches™ were light and sound and comfort.

As an adult, I avoid both McDonald’s and Disneyland. When I was short they were magic, as was Las Vegas.

My grandfather was a ‘macher’ in Las Vegas when I was a child. (Find a Jewish friend to translate, if I had another word I would have used it.) He favored the Hacienda. Appropriately enough, my own casino is in Mandalay Bay in the same location. You’d think the magic would have staled from when I was tiny, wandering among the slots, staring up in happy amazement. Only the angle changed. Now I sit happily, as happily as once I rode the Matterhorn, with about the same number of ups and downs.

Las Vegas is in constant flux but with a consistent level of banality that I find comforting. Because we’re there seasonally, the subtle changes are more apparent and more significant. What’s odd is that I went from feeling like an outsider observing the stream of humanity, to feeling like an insider doing the same. We know the people, and they know us. More important, they feed us.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’ll take a piece of perfectly seared escolar over a Big Mac any day. The times, they have a-changed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Vegas Vignettes: Thirteen

Monday morning we left at exactly 7:13 a.m. by the digital car clock. You all know how superstitious I am. One person already asked why we didn’t sit in the driveway for an extra minute. That would’ve been quixotic. It was 13, no matter how you camouflage it.

We dropped Jonah off at his country estate then got Starbucks. So the actual trek to Las Vegas began at--- yep, 9:13. We got gas in Barstow: 13 gallons. Now I’m starting to get a little weirded. We checked into the hotel, they gave us a suite on the 13th floor. We left the room for the casino and synchronized watches at exactly 5:13.

Ok, to those of you on Twitter, that’s all old news. But wait! There’s more.

On the last night I was winning. And I mean winning big, really big, to the point where I was taking tickets out of the machines so I wouldn’t lose the money again. I cashed the tickets out and shoved all the money in my pocket, to count later in private. Turned out there were exactly 13 $100s.

If I was going to sell my superstitious neurosis, $1,300 is a good price. But pish tosh! I’m no ideological whore. Still, it sure didn’t hurt.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Go With The Flow

You must know this story: A student goes to the Teacher asking for guidance. The teacher pours a drink as the student goes on and on about previous studies and previous teachers. The drink overflows and the student yells. The Teacher smiles and says something along the lines of “First you have to empty your cup.”

Over the years, I’ve heard it told as Zen, Talmudic and Sufi. Same story, same point. You’d think by now I’d get it.

We don’t notice how incrementally and insidiously our cups fill up, maybe because we don’t choose what we put in them. I didn’t put that Rihanna song in my head, pretty as she is; I see that same video every day in the gym.

Tedium and repetition aren’t the bulk of the mental cup-fillers. Stresses, annoyances and irritations are. In today’s climate, it’s easy to build up a tolerance for stress. If we didn’t, we’d be in trouble every time we fired up our computers or answered our cell-phones. Anxiety is both unavoidable and inevitable. A life without any conflict would be as dull as reading the encyclopedia. That said, enough is enough.

Why doesn’t matter. My cup is overflowing and I’ll be taking a few days off to go empty it. Au revoir, darlings. Behave yourselves, I’ll back soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All Blogged Up

Today’s New York Times had an article in it about blogs. I meant to save it, but of course it’s somewhere in the bin out front right now. A company tracked millions of blogs, and 95% of them had no activity within the last year. It seems that bloggers are choosing Twitter and other, more immediate, forms of cyber-expression. That’s like comparing apples and prix fixe menus. I love Twitter but it’s a snack, not a meal.

I remember reading books filled with nothing but correspondence. Back in the day, people used to write long and sometimes interesting letters to each other. Sure, they had no other way to communicate over distance, but it was still a lot of effort, and a lot of words.

Picture yourself sitting at a desk, pen in hand, covering more than one sheet of paper with your news and your thoughts, then sending it out with the knowledge that it won’t be read for days, maybe weeks, and even then it would only be seen by the person to whom it was addressed. This wasn’t that long ago, and it probably took about the same amount of time we spend watching one DVD—assuming we make it to the end of the DVD and don’t shut it off halfway. It takes less time to draft and publish a blog post, but people don’t do that either, apparently.

Then again, letters are small and can be burned, but the Internet is everywhere and forever. That’s daunting, granted, but come on, people! We’re tougher than that. Suck it up and get out there and post. Don’t be another statistic.